The recent great NFT bull run not only brought NFTs into the mainstream consciousness, but it drew in the might and power of Hollywood as well. Countless celebrities attempted to hitch their wagon to the proverbial runaway train — either through NFT drops of their own or by splashing out absurd amounts of cash on rare and high-profile individual tokens.
Of course, where there’s high profile ownership of anything, so too comes the opportunity for devious sorts to crime them away. As a result, we’ve now seen several examples of NFT heists involving known folk having their shit jacked — through various devious means and with varying levels of absurdity. Beyond that, we’ve also seen notable folks attempting to centre themselves in the boon only to crash and burn in spectacular — and rather embarrassing — fashion.
NFT scam vibes
To date, there have been around 170 known NFT heists, accounting for around US$900 million (AU$1.29 billion) in ill-gotten non-fungible goods — most of the biggest NFT thefts coming in 2022 alone. While it’s fair to assume more celebrities have been impacted (through incidents both known and unknown), for now, here’s an honour roll of some of the most notable.
1) Seth Green
Poor Seth Green. The Austin Powers actor was the victim of arguably 2022’s highest-profile NFT heist (so far, at least) back in May, with the whole scenario playing out in public via Green’s very active Twitter feed.
Thanks to a fairly sophisticated and widespread phishing scam that took in millions of dollars’ worth of crypto and NFTs worldwide, Green wound up losing one Bored Ape Yacht Club token, two Mutant Ape Yacht Club tokens and one Doodle token. Those digital assets were quickly onsold by the scammers, leading to a rather unusual public plea by Green to Twitter user @DarkWing84 (also known as Mr Cheese), the person who reportedly wound up with the illicit goods, to return his apes.
Where things really get hairy is when you consider the fact that Green was preparing a fairly revolutionary hybrid sitcom entitled White Horse Tavern, which would have cast Green’s Bored Ape — #8398, nicknamed Fred Simian by its owner — as a bartender at the titular inn, with real humans and NFT avatars interacting with one another. But with the yoinking of the NFT, so too went Green’s rights to the IP attached to the ape. Thus the project hit the skids completely, but not before an early trailer was screened at Gary Vaynerchuk’s eponymous VeeCon event in May.
Green, for what it’s worth, later confirmed that Fred had returned home to his wallet, reportedly after paying Mr Cheese 165 ETH for his safe return. That was the equivalent of around AU$374,515 at the time of writing. Must be nice.
2) Jay Chou
The Taiwanese pop star — and probable frequent trivia question thanks to his role as Kato in Seth Rogan’s 2011 Hollywood update of The Green Hornet — saw himself grifted recently. Yet another phishing scam managed to lift Chou’s hard-earned Bored Ape piece as part of this year’s April Fool’s Day festivities.
Except, this was no joke, Jay Chou.
Reported to have also seen another three NFTs become displaced in the ruse, including two Doodles and one Mutant Ape Yacht Club, the digital thieves took off and ran. Chou’s Bored Ape NFT was placed on blockchain marketplace LooksRare, where it eventually sold for a whopping 155 ETH, equating to somewhere north of AU$351,000.
Chou, for the record, was gifted BAYC #3738 by Jeffrey Hwang Licheng of Taiwanese hip-hop group Machi. All’s well that ends well, though, as public records show the ape eventually found its way back into Chou’s possession by the end of April.
As they say, no more monkeying around on that one.
3) Steven Galanis
If his name isn’t recognisable to you, Steven Galanis is the co-founder and CEO of celebrity well-wishing video platform Cameo.
While not a well-known celebrity himself, Galanis’ Cameo platform is populated by a laundry list of celebrities who earn a little bit of extra coin doing birthday shoutouts, giving best wishes or wantonly roasting the best mates of the world — whatever the purchaser needs.
Per his own social media, Galanis had his Apple ID hacked in early August 2022 and lost a number of NFTs in the process. Chief among those was, you guessed it, a prized Bored Ape, originally purchased in January 2022 for 100 ETH (AU$227,000 or thereabouts).
Bored Ape #9012 then embarked upon the familiar scammer’s journey, being flipped by the heister for around 77 ETH (AU$174,770 approx). Additionally, records show that the scammer flipped a further six NFTs and a whole lot of ApeCoin — a monkey-affiliated cryptocurrency that, for whatever it’s worth, shed 78% of its value during the crypto crash of late April/early May.
At the time of writing, Galanis was seemingly yet to recover his digital assets, with OpenSea records showing Ape #9012 as being flagged for suspicious activity.
4) Melania Trump and an NFT scam
In what turned out to be one of Web3’s greatest self-owns, former US First Lady Melania Trump dipped her toes into the NFT world in January 2022 with the release of her Head of State Collection fashion-based NFT drop, which summarily sold at auction for what amounted to about US$170,000 (AU$243,000) at the time.
The wrinkle in the scheme came from her husband, ex-US president, deflating mandarin and general ne’er-do-well Donald Trump, who, for reasons unknown, decided to only accept payment in the auction in the form of Solana.
Thanks to that decision, and the extremely public transaction records attached to it, intrepid investigators were able to figure out almost immediately that the winning bid was placed by the creator of the NFT auction itself. (i.e. there’s a not-zero chance that Melania — or Melania’s team — simply bought the collection themselves.)
Officially, Melania Trump’s office claims the bid was placed on behalf of a third party, but offered little clarification beyond that. It was not immediately clear whether or not the Trump representatives were engaging in wash trading — the process of buying and selling your own assets in order to artificially inflate the price. They weren’t not not doing it either, but. That practice, for those keeping score at home, is prohibited for more conventional securities and financial assets. However, NFTs are not classified as such and are therefore subject to far less regulatory scrutiny.
So there you have it: celebrity NFT scams and hoodwinks are growing increasingly common.
Who will be next on the NFT scam list?